Seven pillars that any researcher on the Charismatic Movement must take into consideration.
The accelerated growth of the Charismatic movement throughout the world along with its political impact has brought them under more scrutiny within the general public.
Renewalists, that is Charismatics, Pentecostals, and Third Wavers (traditional churches influenced by Pentecostal mysticism) are now the most common expression found in most churches. Renewalism is the fastest growing segment of Christianity in the world. The focus on this article is specifically on the Charismatic movement whose growth is exploding faster than the contemporary Pentecostal one.
André Gagné, a professor at Concordia University, Montreal, who specializes in following the Charismatic movement, Pentecostals, and the Religious Right is concerned about the mobilization of these forces and how they could potentially change the political landscape.
His many followers on Twitter and YouTube agree. This growing concern requires some understanding of the movement.
If one were to describe Charismatics in a short paragraph, it would require a broad definition because of its nature:
A Charismatic is one who has actualized the mystical union of God within themselves and transformed by it.
The above is the best definition so far because the movement is so diverse.
The Seven Pillars
It runs on an Apostolic model
The leaders are perceived as appointed by God. They are not directly accountable to the church body but to God Himself and others in like positions. The leader usually refers to himself as the lead or senior pastor. Outside observers see this model and style more as a mini-Pope. The majority are male leaders though there is an openness for females.
This system allows the church to adapt very quickly to any societal change and adjust to different cultures. This structure is a significant reason why it is proliferating.
Although there are sincere and hard working leaders within this structure, this type of system lacks accountability and can lead to abuses.
A purposeful de-emphasis on theological confessions
Although most Charismatic Churches contain doctrinal statements, many lack describing their distinctness. Charismatics do not see this as a priority. Doctrine is subordinated at the expense of shared experiences. Amos Young, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, explains this as “a theologically or dogmatically untethered pneuma-centric spirituality.”1 In other words, as one assistant Pastor explained in a church meeting for the revision of a statement of a traditional Baptist code of beliefs to a more Charismatic one; “we don’t need a theology statement. We need the Holy Spirit.”2
This spirit-centric rather than doctrinal approach allows for a variety of expressions under the Charismatic umbrella.3
Charismatic churches are independent bodies
There is no hierarchical leadership structure or main body that unites the Charismatic movement. However, there are various interconnections and influences. Some will be influenced more so by the International House of Prayer, while others, Kenneth Copeland, the Hillsong Church, Christ for the Nations, Vineyard movement, Messianic Judaism, the Charismatic Catholic Renewal, Prosperity Gospel, Hebrew Roots Movement, or other independent groups. There are thousands of independent Charismatic churches that have satellite churches, almost like denominations, operating throughout the world.
It is best to visualize this movement as many denominations interconnected and influencing each other to varying degrees.
Homogenizing a viewpoint or movement as representing the whole is not a recommended practice. Fragmentation is the norm, not the exception.Some Charismatic churches can be very conservative in expressions, while others may reserve the mystical expressions at special weekday meetings and not on Sundays. Many will demonstrate mystic behavior randomly while others will tightly control supernatural expressions. Some churches can be over the top, while others quite boring.
Followers are independently minded
Although mysticism is the founding principle, personal autonomy and self-revelation are also highly valued.
This independence mindedness creates a feeling of equality among its members. This attitude is one of the key factors of its spread throughout the world.
Personal revelation of a lay member may not necessarily parallel the theological views or concerns of the leadership.
The drawback is that this emphasis on autonomous thinking can lead to a diverse set of irrational suppositions or political views within congregations and lacks a cohesive unity; each one is on their own different spiritual journey.
Leadership proscribes decisions on when self-revelation has gone too far or outside the healthy boundaries of their group experience. The application of any correction is on an event or person by person basis. Often, especially with newcomers, leaders will ignore extreme expressions. Experience has taught them that extremists or those critical of their group experience tend to shortly leave.
This thinking also allows people to remove themselves from the complexity of the world around them and evaluate in simple black and white terms.
Most Charismatics do not like lay people who are openly pushy or imposing of their agenda in a forceful or demeaning way. This attitude goes against their idea of personal autonomy.
It is an oral culture
You cannot trace the doctrine or teachings via print. The transmission of their culture is person-to-person or multi-media. The oral culture and the multi-media can change very quickly. It is hard to keep up.
There is no emphasis on structured communal reading of the Bible or any interpretation method. Theological insight is self-revealed.
Networking and Sociable traits are highly valued
The tension between personal revelation and corporate good is through a strong emphasis on sociability and networking skills. Those with the best sociable skills usually rise to the top. Think of it as a religious version of the Amway model. This attitude attracts many type-A personalities and dissuades introverts.
Charismatics do not self-describe themselves as Evangelicals or Fundamentalists.
Although the movement has integrated many Evangelical motifs, they are trying to shed a direct identity because of the problems associated with it.
One could also add from a sociological perspective that this is a modern reaction to the faith-science conflict. Evangelicalism tried, and unsuccessfully, confronted empiricism with apologetics and isolationism. The Charismatic world is a retreat into mysticism where science can neither measure nor quantify.
- Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Charismatics
- Ken Voth. Assistant Pastor. Trinity Baptist Church. Winnipeg, Manitoba. 1982
- Number 2 heading used to read “The lead Pastor determines the theological opinions.” Although in many instances this is correct, I do not have substantive material to prove it and requires further research